What they said about

‘At last - a new and brilliantly original novel from India.’
— V S Naipaul

‘The Alchemy of Desire puts Tarun in the front rank of Indian novelists. I am inclined to agree with Naipaul: his book is a masterpiece.’
— Khushwant Singh

‘One of the most attractive Indian writers in English of his generation, he writes with a great deal of raw energy, inventively employing images which are at once sad, haunting, horrendously comic and beautiful.’
— Times Literary Supplement


The Ripper of Accepted Notions

In his second novel, Tarun Tejpal brings together the India that lives in the cities and one that survives in villages. Pillage, violence and torture link his two Indias. - Binoo K. John

I WROTE on the run, boss” Tarun Tejpal says tweaking some strands of his grey beard as if writing a 500- word novel, which swells with a rarely seen concern for the real but ignored India, is the easiest thing to do. There is conviction, anger, as he talks in his Jangpura house about his second novel, written amidst the grinding travails of running a news magazine. He is getting ready for another day of battle in the office of Tehelka (cash flow, news flow) which he owns and edits with an impassioned, fearless anti-establishment stance.

Taking on unthought of tasks, standing up against the establishment, pirouetting through many roles with the grace of a ballet dancer, slam dunking (like he would have during his basketballing days when he almost played for India juniors) established notions through his captivating essays, Tejpal plays the many roles he has taken on with a panache and conviction that is rare.

The Story of My Assassins, is in a way an appendage to his journalism that has made Tehelka the voice of the dispossessed and marginalized and the eternal red rag to the raging bull of the state. Driven in turn by stunning prose and a deep convincing empathy with the struggling India, the novel should rank as one of the most engaging political novels of recent times, making even Aravind Adiga’s Booker winning political novel now look dipped in a bit of treacle. “It is a journey into the heart of power, the exploration of power,” he says emphasizing that the very nature of the novelist is to be subversive, just as it is the role of the journalist to be socially engaging rather than just descriptive or just a narrator of events. He has only contempt for what he calls the sanitized novels churned out by the elite class and now flings these disturbing stories at them and us, guilt-tripping our conscience and also taking us along on such frightful and impassioned journeys.

Yet he is not on campaign mode, letting his magazine and his searing essays like the incredibly perceptive one on the Mumbai terror attack do the talking. Tarun’s insight into the Indian psyche, the political mind, the social moorings, things banal, bombastic were all delivered to us in essays that belied its compact nature, first in India Today where he was copy editor and associate editor, then Outlook and for the last seven years through Tehelka. His essays reached deep and nibbled at untouched corners of our hackneyed mindsets, cajoling, daring and also often empathising. “With the final banality of all fanaticism, flaunting the paradox of modern technology and medieval fervour — AK-47 in one hand; mobile phone in the other — the killers asked their minders, “Udan dein?” The minder, probably a maintainer of cold statistics, said, “Uda do,” the first para of Tejpal’s Mumbai terror essay tugs us.

If you are looking to find out where such linguistic brilliance and such insights into life come from, the answer could be in the row of books that line his house, from philosophers to historians to whatever. It’s as if all the collective wisdom of that rows and rows of books have been funneled into him through some divine machination and here he is squirting them at unsuspecting us, fully engaged in living our boring and gated middle class dreams and paranoias.

If he is a teller of stories and shocker of our conscience Tejpal is also a perennial collector of funds to keep Tehelka going. “ Hello, good morning, Greeting from Tarun. I need money, “ he mocks at his own methodology of getting funds. After all these years he is not sure if Tehelka has turned the corner or not.” I say to all my rich friends, I need your money, but I am not on your side.” That’s how he manages the contradictions of being a seeker of cash that keeps Tehelka going, a teller of soulful stories, the berater of the establishment and the ripper of established notions.

What stumps me is the way he elevates the utterly ordinary into something sublime. Assassins opens with an otherwise dreadfully boring event: ,going to office. The narrator enters office past the drunken nighwatchman or peon. That simple event soon takes on some sort of diabolic stature but not before we are given a view of the world outside; “ The morning I heard I ‘d been shot I was sitting in my office on the second floor looking out the big glass window at the yellow ringlets of a laburnum tree that had gone in a few days from blindingly golden to faded cream, as if washed in rough detergent. Beyond the balding tree, losing its ringlets prematurely in mid-May, the sky was blamelessly blue...”

In his debut novel Alchemy of Desire too he takes events from close to the gutter and gives it the aura of the stupendous. He describes the helper of the bus struck right beside Rajghat on the Ring Road, trying to insert the gear lever which has come detached from the box, with a flurry of choicest abuses accompany each attempt at digging it back in. It is description which will have resonance in the bylanes of Gurdaspur as well as in the high salons of Paris for as Tarun says, that was the translated passage chosen for reading in many places during his book tour of France.

Tarun is a first draft writer, doing away with rethinks and redrafts and as Harper Collins editor V.K. Karthika says, ‘listening to us and then going and doing his own thing.”. To him research “is just the thread that moors the kite. The kite is the narrative and that’s got to fly”.

Taking flight, mostly in prose, is an old Tarun specialty.


India Unedited
Tejpal rewrites the idea of victimhood in a country where the deceptions of power know no bounds
- S. Prasannarajan
The Ripper of Accepted Notions
In his second novel, Tarun Tejpal brings together the India that lives in the cities and one that survives in villages. Pillage, violence and torture link his two Indias.
- Binoo K. John
A Big-theme Novel on the Violence of our Times
- Suresh Menon